Legal Brief Highlights in Nevada Tax Dispute

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Here are highlights from various legal briefs filed by Monday's state Supreme Court deadline in the Nevada tax and budget dispute.

* GOVERNOR: Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, who wants some $860 million in new taxes to balance an already approved $5 billion, two-year state budget, started the Supreme Court process with a writ request that said he was saddened to have to petition. But he said the Assembly was deadlocked and"I have an obligation to uphold Nevada's Constitution."His petition, filed by Attorney General Brian Sandoval, says the constitution requires adequate funding for public schools, and also requires enough taxes to balance the budget. Sandoval also said the court should direct lawmakers"to act by a time certain"to enact a tax plan, and can do so without violating the separation of powers doctrine. He also suggested sanctions for noncompliance, which could include fines and up to 90 days in jail for contempt of court.

* LEGISLATURE: Brenda Erdoes, chief legal counsel for state lawmakers, filed a brief saying the court's intervention would violate the separation of powers doctrine. That doctrine preserves the authority of the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Erdoes said the Nevada Constitution doesn't say exactly when lawmakers must adopt a tax plan, and noted they've been"diligently meeting and proposing solutions."

* ASSEMBLY DEMOCRATS: Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, filed a brief saying that the Assembly Democrats and a handful of Assembly Republicans aren't to blame for the impasse on tax and budget issues because they voted for a tax plan that would have funded the budget. But she said 15 Assembly Republicans repeatedly refused to go along with various tax proposals supported by a majority of the Assembly and Senate and by GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn. If any legislators are to be blamed for violating constitutional duties, it's those 15 lawmakers who would"play political games and disrupt our schools"in an attempt to get Guinn to reopen the budget, she said.

* ASSEMBLY REPUBLICANS: Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, and the 14 other Assembly members who opposed tax plans so far were joined by five GOP senators who also opposed the plans in arguing the Supreme Court shouldn't listen to requests for"urgent action, as though the sky were about to fall."They also suggested oral arguments _ something the court apparently wants to avoid _ and said the court should nullify the budget bill already passed by lawmakers, and order lawmakers back into session to consider the full budget.

* TWO SENATORS: Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, filed a document urging the court to dismiss Guinn's petition because there's no constitutional violation by lawmakers. Amodei said the court's role should be limited to an informal"keep trying."He added,"A spanking might help, but there is no authority for such a sanction. And indeed same should be applied in an inclusive fashion to the executive branch and appropriate industry lobbyists."

* TEACHERS: A brief filed by Nevada's school teacher unions said the two-thirds'vote requirement for any new or increased taxes is unconstitutional. The teachers say the requirement must give way to a long-standing constitutional requirement that the state adequately fund its public schools. Those signing on to the brief included the Nevada State Education Association, Clark County Education Association, the Education Support Employees Association of Clark County and the Washoe Education Association. The state university system's Nevada Faculty Alliance, representing professors, made a similar argument, and also said lawmakers should be ordered to approve the necessary tax plan by a simple majority vote"as provided for in the Nevada Constitution."

* SCHOOLS-UNIVERSITIES: The state Nevada's biggest public school districts and its university system joined with Guinn in seeking the high court's intervention. Lawyers for the school districts in Clark and Washoe counties, Nevada's largest, and for the University and Community College System of Nevada filed documents saying the high court should order the Legislature to pass the taxes needed to fully fund the budget. They added that sanctions should be imposed if lawmakers don't act _ and one sanction could be a ruling"that a simple majority may pass any necessary revenue measures."The state's school administrators also filed a brief stating that the impasse is hurting the schools'ability to meet federal and state educational standards.

* STATE WORKERS: The Nevada State Employees Association and the Nevada State AFL-CIO said the Supreme Court must respect other branches of government but"all branches must respect the state constitution."The brief says the court ordering lawmakers to comply with the constitution is"much less judicial intervention in school financing than most states have already seen."

* BUSINESS INTERESTS: A brief filed by numerous business-dominated groups and individual businesses said AB553, the budget authorization act passed by legislators in their regular session, should be voided or declared unconstitutional because the lawmakers failed to enact a valid tax measure. Those signing on included the Nevada Taxpayers Association, Nevadans for Real Tax Fairness, Nevada Bankers Association, Nevada Manufacturers Association, Nevada Motor Transport Association, Retail Association of Nevada and others.

* NEVADA CONCERNED CITIZENS: The conservative NCC said Guinn's petition should be rejected and he should be ordered to call a special session in which budget reductions would be allowed. The NCC also suggests a continuing funding resolution as interim relief for public schools.

* LEGAL FOUNDATION: The Pacific Legal Foundation said any opinion the court might issue would be only advisory. The foundation termed Guinn's petition an abuse of the judicial process that would create"a dangerous precedent."The foundation describes itself as a public interest organization dedicated to limited government and individual rights.


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